At Work: Allen Foresta | Teachers College Columbia University

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At Work: Allen Foresta

Allen Foresta is a Senior Librarian of Research and Information Services, one of three at TC's Gottesman Libraries. To his colleagues, he is known as "Refman" -- shorthand for "the master reference librarian."
By Emily Rosenbaum
1.   Who is he?

Allen Foresta is a Senior Librarian of Research and Information Services, one of three at TC’s Gottesman Libraries.  To his colleagues, he is known as “Refman” – shorthand for “the master reference librarian.” 

In addition, to fielding questions from people who walk up to their desks,  “we do more structured research consultations where we sit down with students by appointment and talk about their research and walk them through the use of various resources,” Foresta says.  The senior librarians also do classroom presentations and develop the Gottesman’s Website. 

2.   Road to TC

Foresta grew up in Nutley, NJ.  He went to Cornell, where he got a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in English literature.  After enrolling in a doctoral program, he took a job in Cornell’s libraries to support himself, and soon realized he’d found his true calling.  In 1978, after 11 years in Ithaca, he moved to New York City and became a night supervisor at Columbia’s business library, where he met his future wife Jane Winland, currently the Director of Columbia’s Science and Engineering libraries.  He entered Columbia’s School of Library Service, which has since ceased operations, and earned a master’s degree in library service.  He began working at TC in 1985.

3.  Best part of the job?

Foresta particularly enjoys getting involved with students’ and faculty members’ research as he guides them through the Gottesman’s vast array of resources.  “I feel like I’m involved in the fun part of research, which is really the detective work of tracking things down and getting access to them.” 

He also enjoys making classroom presentations, because that work requires him to stay on top of which resources are most important for each program.  “It’s a way of continually learning new things.” 

4.  In his spare time

Foresta is a self-described literature geek.  His favorite poets include John Ashbery, Geoffrey Hill, and W.H. Auden.  He also loves New York City – its history, its performing arts, its music.  “I’m very fond of the Hudson,” he says.  “I like to get out and walk along the riverside in the park.”

5. Legends from the Stacks

Once, asked for help in finding a hard copy of the Virginia Woolf short story “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown,” published in 1924, Foresta quickly located two collections in Columbia’s Butler Library that contained the story. As he explains, he was able to deliver because he knew, from experience, to click  “Full View” when searching Columbia’s online catalog in order to see key words from the contents or title pages of some books.

6.  Did you know?

The library has changed tremendously since Foresta started working at TC.  Twenty-six years ago, the card catalog was the most important way to find resources in the collection.  “We spent a lot of time running from the reference desk to the card catalog.  We got lots of exercise.”  Now, of course, most resources are electronic, although Foresta says some things remain available only in print. 

Foresta likes handling books and reading from the page, but he is not nostalgic for the days of print only.  “Online access is just so superior in so many different ways.  You’re not restricted to searching by established subject headings or by specific authors.  You can combine terms and concepts in all kinds of ways that you can’t in print.” 

With all the electronic resources available, students returning to academia can become overwhelmed.  Even those who are adept at internet searches don’t necessarily know the most effective ways to find what they need.  “It’s all a question of finding new ways to navigate the vast ocean of possibilities,” he explains. “I try not to mix metaphors too much.”

Published Monday, Feb. 7, 2011


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